Are Pipelines Safe?

warning petroleum pipeline

Pipelines are an extremely safe way to transport energy across the country. A barrel of crude oil or petroleum product shipped by pipeline reaches its destination safely more than 99.999% of the time. The number of releases greater than 500 barrels is down 32% since 2011. In addition, most incidents do not impact the public or the environment, with 71% of incidents in 2015 occurring and contained wholly within an operator's facility. 

Pipeline companies take active steps to ensure that health, safety, security, and environmental concerns are addressed throughout the planning, construction, and operational phases of pipeline operations. Pipeline companies work to prevent releases by evaluating, inspecting and maintaining pipelines in a program called integrity management. Integrity management programs have produced decreases in incidents attributed to every major cause of failure. Pipeline companies spend millions of dollars on research into new inspection technologies and spend billions on safety each year.

Pipeline incidents, while rare, do still happen. Pipeline operators prepare for the unlikely event of an incident through control room technologies and training to stop the flow of a pipeline quickly upon a release. Operators also develop emergency response plans, deploy resources, and work frequently with local first responders in order to reduce the impacts of any release. Pipeline operators work with the NTSB and PHMSA to determine incident causes, fix problems, and pay fines when appropriate. 

Liquid petroleum pipelines are usually the only feasible way to transport significant volumes by land over long distances.